Real men wear pink?
It is without a doubt that Africa is experiencing a growth in consciousness not only towards the gender movement, but also the millennial generation. Men are now being applauded for showing their vulnerability which has not always been the case.
This is especially prevalent in main stream music, with the release of Jay-Z controversial 4:44 and the release of the footnotes video which had an array of men sharing their views on relationships, fatherhood and identity. Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi Drake, J-Cole have also released albums that veered on being more open and vulnerable which was welcomed with both celebration and mockery from the public. The more men speak up, the more awareness is raised about issues affecting them i.e. mental illness.
These are important discussions to have in this era. The reality is that issues of mental illness and depression are very real problems in our society and can no longer be swept under the rug. In Botswana, for example, police statistics show that in 2007, 313 suicides were reported. By 2010, the figure had increased to 337 and likely to have increased since.
This might also be the case in many African countries. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health indicated that in 2015 nearly 5 percent of men reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the that year. In the US, men make up 75% of suicide victims. We have not even begun to scratch the surface as so there are few in depth studies about issues related to psychological health in our continent as well. We are known to turn to traditional healers, spiritual healing or just staying at home then to seek help regarding these issues.
Open conversations around masculinity must be encouraged in order to address the struggle that men face, which sadly, is unknown to a lot of us. Whilst women resort to talking first as their go–to release, men simply do not. This is because as a society we have played a dangerous game of portraying masculinity in one cookie-cutter way – painting a picture of this great macho man who cuts wood and has a beard – as the real man. We have shunned men who choose to embrace other qualities that aren’t associated with manliness, like wearing pink or crying when hurting. Masculinity is therefore constantly under the microscope, allowing no room for men to display their vulnerabilities.
The recent death of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington brought up some interesting discussions around struggles with depression, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Whatever the case is, I believe we ought to challenge the stereotype that men cannot be vulnerable and share their struggles in an effort to help them grow and deal with the demons they are fighting. The rise of depression in men in the US has also been linked to loss of jobs in manufacturing industries, among others. As we encourage the girl child to be empowered, strong, vulnerable and powerful, equal encouragement should be invested in embracing different forms of masculinity without being judged or condemned for their inner struggles.
Considerations to create safe spaces for men to speak up and speak out should be a starting point to addressing the bigger challenges we are facing currently in reference to depression and mental illness. Mental health awareness week is commemorated in May, however this conversation needs to moved forward in the all spaces – at work, at home, everywhere.
The Duke of Cambridge Prince William discussed his understanding of what men deal with in regards to mental illness having worked directly with suicide cases as an ambulance pilot. He even went to praise known figures like Stormzy, Rio Ferdinand and others and has been an advocate for mental health awareness. William in the interview said “There may be a time and a place for the stiff upper lip, but not at the expense of your health”. His brother Prince Harry has also recently been open about not properly dealing with the loss of his mother when he was younger.
With growing discussions around mental illness and substance abuse by well-known individuals, this will hopefully move the needle in how we look at and deal with mental illness and health. Making the discussion around mental illness extend to more than being a social issue but a health one could help alleviate the stigma associated with it currently. Aggressive strategies by government and the private sector with the aim of sensitizing men about their wellness and removing the negative connotations associated with counseling and psychotherapy should be developed and implemented. Further efforts to encourage research could also advance the agenda to further the knowledge and insights to help men speak and combat this disease.
By: Lesego Otlhabanye